Interview with Drew Leshko

Drew Leshko Rusty Icebox

New works by Drew Leshko will be on view at Thinkspace Gallery July 18th – August 8th. The opening reception for Drew’s work along with artists Nosego and Brian Mashburn is from 6-9pm on Saturday, July 18th.

SH:  What is your process?
DL: I’m a sculptor that works mainly with paper so a lot of the process is knife work with a variety of X-acto blades. For the Dumpsters and small works, the process begins with a large sheet of hot press illustration board. I like hot press papers for their smooth textures and use illustration board as it accepts paints and pigments very well. By making a series of cuts and scores on the flat sheet, eventually the dumpsters fold into the desired shape. At this point, I’ll use some PVA glue to set the forms. Once dry I’ll fill all of the seams with plaster, then sand clean. Very heavy-handedly, I’ll apply enamels to the dumpsters, one side at a time allowing the paint to pool a bit so that they dry without brush strokes – I try to achieve the look of a real dumpster which most likely was sprayed with wet paint from an air gun. Once dry, I’ll start adding on the details — handles, wheels, hinges, lids, etc.

The most difficult part of the dumpster works is prepping the wheat pastes. I have them printed on a nice heavy, acid-free Matte photo paper so that the paper receives the ink nicely, but the scale of the paper is all wrong. It’s way too thick at this point, so I peel layers of the paper apart trying to isolate a very thin top layer that I then distress that with sandpaper, and manipulations by hand. This takes time and a whole lot of patience.

SH: How long does it take you to finish a single piece? For example, a dumpster and a small two-story building.
DL: The buildings are large undertakings. Even a small two story building takes me about a month, and I work around 40 hours a week in the studio… A lot of the work is the preparation of the paper building materials. Cutting, painting, and gluing bricks is a slow grind. Nothing is prefabricated, so everything is sculpted from a stack of blank papers and wood. In a way, each component of a building is worked on as an individual sculpture, then applied to the custom panel (building shaped) similar to a collage.

Dumpsters and small works are created in downtime while I’m waiting for glue or paint to dry on the big projects but are typically completed over a week or two. I like to have a couple different projects going at the same time so that i can bounce between them. My work involves a lot of very delicate and precarious glue joints, so I’ve come to terms with stepping away from them at certain points to protect the work I’d just put in. As the work is mainly paper, stray glue can be devastating and really wreck what I’d been trying to accomplish.

SH: Do you work from your own source photography?
DL: Yes, I photograph all of the buildings myself for reference images. There have been a couple of projects where artist friends have shared photos they’ve taken for me to use.

All of the wheat pastes are photographs that I’ve taken while wandering Philly. Most of them are from right in my neighborhood.

Drew Leshko Yams

SH: Who are your favorite artists at the moment?
DL: Alex Lukas, Jen Stark, and Erin M Riley

SH: What is the biggest misconception about being an artist?
DL: I’m not sure what the biggest misconception would be, but i know its not an easy lifestyle. I’m not able to make my living just off of my artwork, so i have to balance between studio work and work-work. So when i say that i work 40 hours a week in the studio, thats on top of the 30 hours a week i work to pay the bills. For an outsider it seems kind of crazy, but after doing this for almost a decade, it just is what it is.

SH: What is the most fulfilling part of being an artist?
DL: The most fulfilling thing for me is when someone really connects with my sculptures. I love to watch people getting excited about the work, but also getting confused about the materials being used. In particular, Swizz Beatz was really blown away by my buildings and the attention to detail. He said to me that he really connected to the work, as the building reminded him of his roots in New York. Though none of the buildings were from NYC, the architectural styles are mostly the same through Northeastern cities…. So by working with an architectural style like “Colonial Revival” or similar, the buildings tend to be more ambiguous and less Philly-centric.

Drew Leshko Counter Punch

SH: Dream project, if time and money were not an issue?
DL: The Divine Lorraine Hotel here in Philadelphia. Its massive and has it all — the architectural details, various states of decay and preservation, and a rich history. I think it would take me 2 years to sculpt it and it would probably be about 12 feet tall, so i’d need a bigger studio. hahaha

SH: Any plans to spend time in other major cities to help inform future bodies of work, or will Philadelphia be your muse for foreseeable future?
DL: My environment has really shaped my work, no doubt about that. But yes, I’d love to make a trip to LA and start thinking about building a new body of work for my next show with Thinkspace. The only problem is that i don’t know other cities well. My works are capturing a moment in time — buildings that are being torn down, re-purposed, and modernized, so without being a local and really in tune with the dynamics of particular areas, its tough to identify these types of places. I don’t just make buildings that are striking, its more than that.

SH: What do you do when self-doubt or inspiration dry spells hit you?
DL: Yea. self-doubt is a real thing for sure. Most of the time I’ll just put the work away for a few weeks and come back to it. I’ll start something new or different. This Venn-diagram seems about right.

creative venn diagram


Please visit the Thinkspace Gallery website for more information and we hope to see you out Saturday, July 18th.